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UK MPs agree compromise for contentious Brexit bill
[LONDON] British lawmakers formally agreed on Tuesday to give themselves a veto over whether London can breach the Brexit divorce treaty in a compromise with the government unlikely to assuage EU concerns.
Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson has sparked outrage in Brussels with plans to give UK ministers the power to override some of the European Union exit terms negotiated only last year.
A group of his own MPs also threatened to rebel over the proposals in the Internal Market Bill, after the government admitted the new powers would breach international law.
But lawmakers in the House of Commons late on Tuesday backed a compromise amendment agreed with Johnson that would require them to approve the date on which the powers came into effect.
The bill will now receive further debate in the Commons early next week, ahead of a vote on Tuesday on whether it should progress to the upper House of Lords for weeks of scrutiny there before becoming law.
The EU has demanded Britain withdraw the clauses that conflict with the divorce deal or face possible legal action and repercussions in ongoing talks on a future free trade deal.
The draft law is intended to ensure free trade across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland after Brexit.
But it would give London powers to unilaterally regulate UK trade and state aid within Northern Ireland in violation of the Brexit treaty, which says it must liaise with Brussels.
Northern Ireland will uniquely remain subject to some EU rules after Brexit to ensure a free-flowing border with the Republic of Ireland - a crucial part of the 1998 peace accords that ended decades of sectarian violence.
Mr Johnson says the powers are needed only if the EU goes through with what he claims - and Brussels denies - are threats to impose tariffs on UK internal trade and even stop food going into Northern Ireland.
Senior Tory MP Bob Neill, who led the threatened rebellion, said the new amendment, which would restrict the powers' use, made "the best of a bad job".
"It's not where I wanted to be, but in the interests of the country it's right that we do get a proper functioning, working set of rules to enhance and improve the internal market within the UK," he said during Tuesday's debate.
However, the amended bill still gives the UK the power to breach the treaty, and as such is unlikely to address concerns in Brussels.
Britain left the EU in January but remains bound by its rules until a post-Brexit transition phase ends on December 31.